In Gourds' Country

Lately, music fans in Austin have been hungering for another band to bolster the town's representation in the roots-alternative world -- a band with perhaps a touch of that oddball, broom-closet eclecticism that defines Texas and its massive crock pot of simmering contradictions.

The Gourds could well be that group. On the new Dem's Good Beeble CD, the Austin quartet has hit on a stripped-down anti-formula so easygoing that it seems slight on first perusal -- studiously tradition-conscious, for sure, but also a tad flippant. The Gourds' largely acoustic sound, dominated by guitar, mandolin, bass, accordion and rudimentary percussion, is about as salt-of-the-earth as folk rock gets, and it's far from perfect. In fact, the Gourds can be downright sloppy at times, exhibiting pronounced slacker tendencies not unlike those of modern rock's lo-fi auteurs.

The group was founded by singer/songwriters Kevin Russell (guitar, mandolin) and Jimmy Smith (bass), who met as members of the ill-fated country-punk outfit the Picket Line Coyotes. Russell, who spent a few teen years living in Houston, started the Coyotes in Shreveport, Louisiana, with Robert Bernard (now of Prescott Curleywolf), and eventually moved the band to Dallas, where Smith, a big fan of the group, joined up.

The Coyotes toured heavily into the early '90s, when hard work and diminishing returns took their toll. Soon after relocating to Austin, the group fell apart, and Russell and Smith went back to basics, writing songs on acoustic instruments. Smith enlisted the help of melodica/accordion player Claude Bernard (brother of Robert) to help dress up his demos. Soon, Bernard, Smith and Russell had formed an early version of the Gourds called the Grackles with another soon-to-be Prescott Curleywolfer, Ron Byrd. Things didn't really fall together, though, until the band found drummer Charlie Llewellin, a native of Wales who had settled in Austin after he was introduced to the city by his friend Michelle Shocked.

After putting in on-stage hours to hone their sound, the Gourds signed with Munich Records America and retired to a Hill Country ranch to record Dem's Good Beeble, which explains the CD's cozy, brisk-as-morning immediacy. With the Levon Helm-like vocals of Russell at their disposal, the Gourds could ape the Band any time they desired, but they're smart enough to do so humbly and sparingly on Beeble. The CD's rural feel and sharp focus on what city folk might consider the more mundane details of everyday life recall the work of earlier Band disciples the Silos. Like the Silos, the Gourds find poetry in simplicity; their name says it all.

-- Hobart Rowland
The Gourds open for Bad Livers at 9 p.m. Thursday, October 24, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $5. For info, call 869-COOL.

Chantay Savage -- Earlier this year, singer Chantay Savage accomplished something that many might consider impossible -- she made disco sound respectable. The song in question was Gloria Gaynor's 1979 female empowerment hit "I Will Survive," which Savage remade for her CD I Will Survive (Doin' It My Way). Savage is a serious singer with a crisp, ringing resonance, and her version of Survive cuts to the song's heart, turning it into the hauntingly bittersweet ballad it was meant to be. Thanks to Survive, people are beginning to take notice of the Chicago native (and daughter of jazz musician parents). At a time when women are often required to wiggle their vinyl-clad behinds to be noticed in modern R&B, it's refreshing to see a woman do nothing more -- and nothing less -- than sing her butt off. At Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, at 9 p.m. Thursday, October 24. Tickets are $12 and $19. 869-8427. (Craig D. Lindsey)

Slim Dunlap -- Those Replacements fans disillusioned with Paul Westerberg's foray into adult pop and drummer Chris Mars' solo career have one more surviving ex-Mat in which to take solace. Lest we forget, there's the lovingly off-kilter Slim Dunlap, who joined the Replacements on lead guitar in their waning years. Not long after the group's breakup, Dunlap assembled his own band, cut a modest CD, The Old New Me, and promptly fell into obscurity. The new Times Likes This, a more confident work, should give Dunlap more to go on than his former Replacements replacement status. What can we expect for the Slim Dunlap Band live? An approximation of the Replacements' mid-'80s brand of random irreverence, though there's a suggestion that Dunlap's band has it a little more together on-stage than the Mats ever did. At the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam, Friday, October 25. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5. Bongo Hate opens. 225-0500. (H.R.)

Pork -- There's nothing new about what Austin's Pork does on CD or on-stage -- but then, orgasms have been going on for years, too. No premise here, just the modestly powerful idea that three singing women -- one each assigned to bass, drums and guitar -- armed only with the proverbial three chords and a powerful hankering to have a good time can not only do just that but spill that same good time over into the lap of anyone who happens to be sitting too close. Slop is the band's new CD, and I know it's poor form to refer to any contemporary product from contemporary women as "cute," but you're gonna have to prove me wrong -- or explain just what exactly is wrong with cute -- before you make me apologize. At Rudyard's Pub, 2010 Waugh Drive, at 10 p.m. Friday, October 25. Cover is $4. Texacala Jones and the T.J. Devil Dancers open. 521-0521. (Brad Tyer)

 
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